Not missing out if you don't see The Missing

Dec. 2, 2003, midnight | By Olivia Bevacqua | 17 years, 1 month ago

Ron Howard's The Missing is like a Thanksgiving dinner that never ends; there are extra helpings of everything, but by the time you've eaten your eighth serving of mashed potatoes, they don't have much taste. Such is The Missing—chase scenes, gunfights and murder become as bland as stale stuffing as the movie slowly approaches its final scenes.

The movie begins on an isolated New Mexico ranch inhabited by Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) and her two daughters, the teenaged Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) and seven-year-old Dot (Jenna Boyd). Gilkeson is a healer, seemingly afraid of nothing—she is the type of woman who can yank a rotting tooth out of a squealing old woman or stitch together a wounded stranger. One day, Lilly is kidnapped by Apache Indians who are collecting young girls to sell into slavery in Mexico. Gilkeson has to call upon the help of her estranged father Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones), who has lived among Native Americans for 20 years. Guided by Jones, Gilkeson and Dot set off on a dangerous journey to rescue Lilly before she is lost forever beyond the Mexican border.

This would actually be a good movie if it weren't so miserably long. Blanchett is outstanding as the gutsy Gilkeson, gritting her teeth in the face of danger and portraying every aspect of the pain and rage she feels in the wake of Lilly's kidnapping. Jones is entertaining as well—his interactions with his daughter are alternately moving and comical as they get to know each other for the first time in two decades. When Gilkeson tells Dot that she can't have a new pair of shoes, Jones comments, "That's no way to raise a little girl." Gilkeson stares at him piercingly and replies, "What would you know about that?" Their verbal sparring continues with progressively less venom as father and daughter learn to trust each other; their chemistry is a highlight of the movie.

Another plus is the cinematography. Gorgeous shots of the rolling New Mexican clouds and stark landscape will compel tourists to search for guidebooks. An aerial view of Jones and Dot struggling through a flash flood also provides a stunning moment in a chain of increasingly tiresome events. Alas, even beautiful cinematography cannot save a movie once it has been drawn out 45 minutes past several suitable endings, by which point you don't really care if they rescue Lilly or not.

Aside from length, the movie's other low points include the character Dot and an unnecessary exploration of Apache mysticism. Dot, simply put, is a pain in the neck. All she does is whine and cry. As for the Apaches, they're portrayed as long-haired men running around throwing colorful powders at people, setting curses with voodoo-like powers. While you do get a sense of the Native Americans' deep connection with nature, even this rendering borders on hokey, particularly in a weird, random scene in which Jones is lying on the ground, talking to a bird.

The Missing would be dramatic and absorbing if it didn't take so long to get to the point. Excellent acting on the part of Blanchett and Jones make the film almost worth seeing. Unfortunately, as when eating a Thanksgiving dinner, it's better to quit while you're ahead.

The Missing is rated R for violence.

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